Originally, the first photographers were more concerned with the science and technology of photography than with art, and the results were largely dry point-and-shoot affairs.

This relatively quickly changed, and one of the first important movements was photographic pictorialism as represented by the groups like the Photo-Secession. The general idea of this movement that photographs become art by intentional act of the photographer's creation, rather than simply representing what's in front of the lens. This generally involves careful staging and photo-manipulation.

This movement was effectively crushed by Straight photography, as championed by Ansel Adams, the Westons, and friends; the basic idea being simply that a "pure" photograph could stand as art on its own merits; that recording what was in front of the lens with technical skill (including, of course, composition and timing) is the true key to photography as an art form.

This idea was very successful, and the pictoralist movement as such died in the first half of the twentieth century. Were the straight photographers simply so successful at delivering their message that the pictoralists became irrelevant? Was it the historical timing of the 20th century? Or something else?

Now, in the digital age, with everyone a photographer and with technical skill leveled by superb auto modes, does the message of the pictoralist movement resonate again? Or, conversely, does the ease with which software turns photographs into manipulated "digital art" mean that the pure vision for straight photography is most important to photography as a separate art form?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's a horrible mistake to try to understand it without considering a much broader cultural context. All art forms, in the European and North American spheres at least, underwent radical changes and re-examination in the wake of WWI, and Romanticism was beginning to parody itself in an unseemly fashion anyway, usually indicting the death throes of a fad. It's not solely about photography. Nor was "straight photography" alone; Dada and the Surrealists were equally active. It's just really hard to ignore Adams and Weston in any context. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Apr 5, 2013 at 21:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StanRogers: It wasn't just the arts. Dadaism certainly began with the visual and literary arts and spread to other art forms such as music. But the same disillusionment after WWI with the assumption that humans are basically altruistic affected almost every form of the expression of human intelligence. Philosophy, theology, and even sciences like psychology and sociology were heavily impacted. Not to even mention the way history was viewed and interpreted. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 6, 2013 at 7:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Originally, the first photographers were more concerned with the science and technology of photography than with art" - what do you mean by "originally" ? Just look around - that's exactly what people are concerned with today. That's why we have system wars, that's why we have mirrorless vs rest of the universe front, that's why the most popular websites about photography are these about gear, not art. The only thing that changed is that previously photographer was an expert in chemistry - now he is an expert in electronics. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2013 at 11:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StanRogers That's what I was alluding to with the "historical timing" comment in the question; I can expand on it in the question itself if you think that'd be helpful. Or you can expand on your comment in a full answer! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Apr 6, 2013 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Neat question. I so plan on putting a bounty on this when it becomes eligible. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2013 at 18:42

7 Answers 7


So we're all on the same page, here's a definition of pictorialism:

Typically, a pictorial photograph appears to lack a sharp focus, is printed in one or more colors other than black-and-white (ranging from warm brown to deep blue) and may have visible brush strokes or other manipulation of the surface. For the pictorialist, a photograph, like a painting, drawing or engraving, was a way of projecting an emotional intent into the viewer's realm of imagination.

An example:

Example of pictorialism
The black bowl, 1907. George Seeley. Source

My take: A new technology, a new story-telling medium, attempts to gain acceptance by emulating something else that already exists, in this case paintings. At some point the new medium is accepted, and doesn't need to emulate anyone anymore.

I don't think we need more than this to explain the rise of pictorialism ("see, we can make a photo look almost like a painting") as well as the fall ("never mind, let's focus on what photography can do that painting can't").

It could even explain why painting went abstract in self-defense :)

Wikipedia on abstract art:

Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an attempt to reproduce an illusion of visible reality.

Arguably, the skills of reproducing perspective and reality by hand became less valuable when photographers could do it better simply with the click of a button. So painting defended its turf by de-emphasizing the "reproduce reality" aspect and turning up the "artistic interpretation" aspect, through impressionism, expressionism, cubism etc.

Initially, photography tried to follow, since painting was still the king of the hill of the art world. That's where pictorialism came in.

Wikipedia describes straight photography as an aesthetic movement stretching from about 1880s to 1970s. In the 1930s it was defined as

Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.

So straight photography could be described as photography's independence movement, essentially claiming that photography is an island, entire of itself, and doesn't need no stinkin' influence from other art forms.
I guess the success was part realization that chasing painting was rather pointless, especially as painting retreated to higher (more abstract) ground; part realization that there was plenty of unexplored territory within basic photography; part staking out a defensible home turf based on photography's natural strengths compared to painting. And of course, straight from the camera is far less work than heavy manipulation, especially given the tools of the time.

In the digital age, I don't think there's much resonance with the pictorialist message as such. The pictorialists were trying to do "we can look like a painting if we want to" at a time when painting was the pinnacle of artistic endeavor.

In the digital age, photography is already accepted and has proved its independence, and there are genres of painting where the influence goes in the opposite direction, like photorealism in the 1960s and hyperrealism in the 2000s.

In the digital age, an artistic photographer will probably want to do something different from the past, just like a contemporary painter probably won't try to emulate 19th century painting. There's not much glory in copying Ansel Adams 50 years later. Today's photographers have tools to do things Ansel Adams couldn't do, and it would be silly not to use them.

In the future, I expect that photography will borrow heavily from, and possibly blend with, art forms like movies, video and computer graphics. It's a natural evolution: If we accept photography as story-telling, more tools to tell a story the way we want it to be told can only be an improvement.

I think it is important to recognize that there's nothing special about straight photography: It was one particular stylistic movement with great historical impact, but there's nothing that says that it's the only way to do photography. Compare with painting, which has had hundreds of stylistic movements through the ages, each of them going in and out of fashion as technology, society and tastes change. It's not a matter of more or less right, just a matter of more or less fashionable in a given place at a given time.

None of this invalidates straight photography, any more than abstract art or fantasy invalidates realism. They are simply different forms of expression, different genres, and may very well coexist peacefully.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "A" definition, not "the" definition. The affectations of soft focus and obvious manipulation were latecomers to the party; it was the tableaux and emotionalism that marked the movement. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Apr 15, 2013 at 5:44

Let's get the major pending question out of the way right from the beginning: the idea that "straight photography" (whatever that's supposed to mean) is the only legitimate use for the tools of photography is every bit as silly and short-sighted as the idea that Abstract Expressionism is the only legitimate artistic use for paint. Both elevate mere medium to the status of Art and then claim exclusivity over that medium. Abstract Expressionism gives the paint and its method of application primacy over all else; "straight photography" revels in the idea that nearly 200 years ago humanity figured out a way to make shadows more-or-less permanent. Big, hairy deal at the time. The novelty should have worn off by now.

All art is story-telling. And you know what? Sometimes the story can be as simple as, "I saw this, and it moved me greatly." Or even, "this existed." There is nothing fundamentally wrong with an ode on the colour red, an expression of how grand or intricate nature can be, or simply fixing a memory of how your daughter looked at the age of six. But documentary is only a rudimentary use of the language of photography, and that language has progressed from pidgin to creole. There is a much larger vocabulary available now than ever before, and the grammar affords us much more than a contextually-bound, telegraphic present tense. We can spin poems, write novels, and explore "what if"—so why limit ourselves to even masterfully-written journalism?

The original incarnation of Pictorialism (and its descendants in the silver-based world) was hampered in a lot of ways. The technical difficulties involved in creating something that never was are only superficially obvious to most people today (until you've actually spent time working with needle-sharp pencils, a 6-0 sable brush or a Pasche Turbo airbrush under a loupe, you have no idea), and the act of compositing the elements was almost simple when compared to the act of capturing them. Most of what was produced was technically bad, and the only reason much of it got any attention at all was because of people's unfamiliarity with the medium: they simply didn't know how to "read" a photograph. (Can you imagine anyone today falling for the Cottingley Fairies or ectoplasm?) To do it up right required set-building, costuming, co-operative lighting, enormous amounts of tedious post-production work (with no mistakes) and staying largely within the realm of what was physically possible (poses that could be held for several seconds, etc.). As such, it was mostly concerned with "serious art" and "great ideas", but had the vocabulary of a pidgin and a grammar that relied mostly upon allusion (like the Tamarian of the Star Trek TNG episode Darmok). If you didn't know what the costumes and the assemblage meant as icons, and didn't recognise the background painting as, say, the Elysian Fields, then you could only judge the work on its own aesthetic merit—the underlying message was lost. It was very much like looking at early mediaeval painting without knowing the iconography of gesture or that that eagle over there is St. John the Evangelist.

Well, a lot more than humans and horses died in World War I. The wisdom of the elders, the classics (upon which were nursed the donkeys who led the lions to their deaths), the very gods themselves all perished in the mud of No Man's Land. Meaning lost its meaning¹, and we began to explore the very nature of meaning in Dada, Surrealism, semiotics and all of the other avenues of approach that eventually coalesced into Postmodernism. The world turned to the immediate, the now, with the feeling that the past no longer made sense and tomorrow may never come. Where nature endured, Romanticism returned to its roots with a new urgency: Nature was the Eternal that we had the power to end; we were responsible for its salvation because we would be its death otherwise, and had to learn to hold it in awe. (And make no mistake about it, Ansel Adams was no clinical realist; everything he did witheld and exaggerated in order to express his awe, in much the same way as his piano playing suffered from an excess of dynamics and rubati. He was a hopeless Romantic.)

Much of this just happened to coincide with significant advances in technology. Practical double-Gauss designs largely displaced Petzval lenses, and even later designs transformed the camera's capabilities; plates and films that were reasonably sensitive, reasonably capable of holding detail and either wide-range orthochromatic or panchromatic emerged. Not only could you take a photo that was both "real" and "now", it became much more difficult to craft a convincing fake. The work would show, and would be obvious. With enough effort, you could build the "impossible" as a set and be left with what was, for the time, minimal retouching (Dali Atomicus comes to mind), or you could try assemblage (which generally turned out looking like a painting rather than a photograph; I find "purely photographic" expressions of the concept, like Jerry Uelsmann's work, utterly unconvincing most of the time). Still, some amount of fibbing, or some story-telling skill mixed in with the reportage, has always been a good thing. There is a reason why everybody knows Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, but damned few have heard of Minor White (who could mop the floor with either of them as a camera operator and darkroom technician).

Notwithstanding the legitimacy of "straight photography", we now have the tools at our disposal to tell different kinds of stories in a truly convincing way. Some of those stories are fantasy, myth or science fiction; some explore the "why nots" rather than the "why". Do we really need to construct vast sets or haul our subjects (and a truckload of equipment) to a location, hoping for a confluence of the right light, the right weather and the moon in Capricorn in order to make the expression legitimate? Or is it merely illegitimate to use the realism of photographic reproduction of the various elements that could be photographed in expressing that story?

Don't let the fact that 90 percent of the attempts are crap bother you. That's just Sturgeon's Law in action. (Frankly, I think ol' Theodore was being a touch too generous there.) At least 90% of "straight photography" (and I mean "serious straight photography") is also crap, and digital plus "P for Professional" isn't helping there at all. So the crap is in focus and well-exposed (for some value of well-exposed). Well-told stories will still stand out; elegant poetry will still resonate deeper than a vaguely naughty limerick. Jamie Baldridge's work is more disturbing and thought-provoking as worked photographs than it ever would be as a painting; John Paul Caponigro's quiet contemplations whisper more softly, but with more enunciation.

In the end, the stories you choose to tell are your own. The idea that you can't coin a new word or phrase when it's called for, or borrow a word from another language, is an artificial imposition, whether imposed externally or internally. Nobody is forcing historians to write science fiction, but no historian has the right to say that science fiction is somehow an illegitimate expression of human thought.

¹ How complete was the death of classical allegory and allusion? T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land was readable by most of his peers and contemporaries; kids today who study it in school need footnotes and references to look up the biblical and mythological allusions, and may have to read entire books to get to the meaning.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Eloquent! Do you have a blog? And thanks you for mentioning Jamie Baldridge and John Paul Caponigro. I had no idea what I was missing. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 7, 2013 at 3:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jakub - thank-you, and you're welcome. Don't have a blog at the moment, no, but I'm seriously thinking of starting one again. (I had a tech blog in the long, long ago, but when the brain rot of undiagnosed Parkinson's ate my ability to think in code and my life became a confusing mess, that went by the wayside. But lately I'm starting to feel like I have something to say again. Just maybe not about IBM software platforms.) \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Apr 7, 2013 at 4:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, the first two sentences are priceless! Stan, if you are interested in a blog, look into WordPress. Very easy to use, but also very flexible in case you want to do more. If you just use the basic features, its free, and easier than any other blogging engine. I'd also follow you in a heartbeat! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Apr 8, 2013 at 19:15

Developement of photography - from science to art

There are two kinds of people in photography. Those who want to take photographs, and those who want to create art. When photography was young, there was only the first-mentioned people involved. It was not in the concept, that photographs could be used in art. Until such people, who also wanted to say something, to create art, found photography interesting.

Pictorialism has nothing to do with art per se. It was an attempt to define what is art in photography, at a time when photography was still new. But art is what we feel, not the tools used, and photography was soon enough (only a 100 years) accepted as a tool to create art thus rendering the idea behind pictorialism useless. So the question is about what changed in photography to make it a tool for art.

Documentary tool begins to see beauty

Think again what was before the time of camera and photographs. It was the time of painters, and especially portrait painters. The first "war" was not between photographers, but between painters and photographers. Painters were making a living from portraits of rich people. It was a painter's moneymaking at jeopardy when photography was starting to take part in portrait business.

One of the painters' arguments was that a straight photograph can not make the subject look any better. That a painter is the only one capable of flattering the subject and make him/her remembered in a favourable way forever, as only painters can twist and turn images as they wish. Photography sought for ways to answer to that challenge, and it is how I see this pictorialism came about. But straight photographers only needed to learn how to make their subjects look good, without "artistic" manipulationing.

Way into grown-up independent photography

..the pictoralist movement as such died in the first half of the twentieth century. Were the straight photographers simply so successful at delivering their message that the pictoralists became irrelevant?

Pictorialism was the way to have photography accepted as a way to create art. In other words, it was seeking acceptance with silent apologies for trespassing into the neighbourhood of art with a documentary tool.

In this case the neighbourhood was painted art. A photograph is so close to a painting as a medium, that a New-kid-on-the-block effect was unavoidable. You have to prove your worth. Like with the portrait paintings vs portrait photographs, in general it is like the painters saying "You can't do THIS" and getting the photographer's answer "Yes I can" and a show-off follows. That's pictorialism, or rather, that's the "Why" behind all else. And there is also the answer to "Why did pictorialism die so quickly?". It happens sooner or later, that the proving phase is over and grown-up photography (along with better equipment and higher image quality) gains the needed self-respect and good enough self-esteem to change the previous answer to "Yes I can, but You can't do THIS!" And what is the This? It is Straight Photography! A pure pixel-sharp image of reality. And so photography becomes a grown-up adult and moves on to live its own independent life with no more need to prove anything.

Old is always challenged by the young

But is pictorialism still here today? Yes, if we think about the younger photographers proving their worth to old photographers. I would not call it pictorialism though. People who have only done digital often can not imagine what difficulties there was in photographying on film. Not so long ago it was (and still is?) the digitals in need to prove their worth to their film-colleagues. The debate between old and new is eternal and what is now new will either grow old or lose the debate and die young.

In photography the key word is "learning". The idea is somewhat similar to Q&A is hard, let's go shopping in a sense that it is hard to obtain high skill and talent to make your subject look good in straight photography, but reasonably easy to go shopping for better equipment and powerful software with which to alter your photographs to fill the gap between a raw photo and your expectations.

What next, photography?

..does the ease with which software turns photographs into manipulated "digital art" mean that the pure vision for straight photography is most important to photography as a separate art form?

Not sure if I understand that. Photography is a form of art, whether it is manipulated and distorted, or plain straight photography. What is digital art, really?

What I consider digital art is something that is so obviously not just a photograph, that anyone can see it. There may be a photograph on which the work has been done, but it would still be considered digital art instead of photographic art.

Two example photos:

Ella and the snail

This is a photograph. Straight out from camera's memorycard, I have done no adjustments whatsoever. We can call it a "pure" photograph, if we don't count the magic that a digital camera does when it draws the pixel information from image sensor.


Must get the snail!

This is digital art, done by my 11 year old son, who wanted to give me his impression of the photograph I took of his two-year old sister. Sure there is a photograph there, but obviously it falls to the digital art category.

Is only unaltered photograph straight?

Where to draw the line, exactly? There is nice examples of the power of post-processing under the Good examples of RAW's advantages over JPEG and especially one of the answers with a pair of photos from @EtienneT. Why would the adjusted photo not be photographic art instead of digital art? To me it is still a photograph even with all the adjustments done to it.

Haven't we done this adjusting work on our photographs since the very beginning? Check out this video of making a B&W print where the girl starts at 9:00 minutes with the "original" and explains the "adjustment" process for the next four minutes of the video. This kind of thing has been done forever. Only it is now a computer software to do the job. After all, there is no such thing as unaltered photograph.

Photography turns digital

Now, in the digital age, with everyone a photographer and with technical skill leveled by superb auto modes, does the message of the pictoralist movement resonate again?

Good question. What is the Old and what is the New today? Digital photography is the New-kid-on-the-block, and has been trying to look as good as film photography ever was. But at the same time digital photography is also the Old. Perhaps it is the old photographers getting annoyed with the new effortless (non-chalant even?) way the young photographers approach photography. Much the same way as painters once felt about photography.

When new ways to create art come up, it does not mean that old ways and tools become less important. This is not a zero-sum game.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry about the number of edits. My read of the subject is, in short, that pictorialism died after fulfilling its purpose, and, at about the same time, with the advancements in technology in both cameras and in photography in general. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 7, 2013 at 8:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ no worries about edits. We generally want the answer good, not first. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 8, 2013 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok. Been wondering if I might still edit more, but.. I think I'm done now. Just that, even though pictorialism has passed away as a movement, does not mean it is all gone. Only so recently as 30 years ago I was doing it myself, just like many others. Digital photography does it differently, but the essence is still there. But the question, and answer, is about the movement and the reasons behind it, and yes, I am done with editing. :) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 8, 2013 at 17:49

I think it was really the development of photographic aesthetics. The early work was perhaps pivotal in its definition, but it was quickly discovered that composition and selection of subject has more impact on how the image tells a story than the more laborious aspects of careful photo manipulation. It was simply more bang for the buck in terms of effort to choose the right aspect of what is in front of the lens than it was to try and control the development so tightly. It may also be that due to their heightened realism, photos didn't resonate in the same way that similar concepts applied to painting would.

That said, with the advent of digital tools that allow photographers a far greater degree of control and ability to refine their work. I think we are seeing more of a different kind of return to some of the concepts behind Photo-Secession. It's becoming less a matter of capturing what is in front of the lens and more a matter of improving on what is in front of the lens or even inventing something that doesn't exist as it is displayed through photographic tools. It still seems to be a mixed bag in terms of popularity, but does seem to be a growing trend.


Curators note:

THe erudtion of this piece may not have been recognised. Or may.
The following comment on the question appears to be inaccessible to some minds, and, perhaps, even to a substantial majority. These may not be the ones you want, move along.
Otherwise, as the first of the "does"es of

  • Now, in the digital age, with everyone a photographer and with technical skill leveled by superb auto modes,
    does the message of the pictoralist movement resonate again? Or, conversely,
    does the ease with which software turns photographs into manipulated "digital art"
    mean that the pure vision for straight photography is most important to photography as a separate art form?

is seen by the the respondent as a self evident truth, if not an outright tautology, and as the second of the "does-es" is like unto it, but the "mean that" is denied, he seeks to comment in a perhaps enlightened but, probably, just obscure manner on the underlying motivations that have brought this catastrophe to life, while dismissing out of hand the adumbration that mere technological excellence is the engine behind the decay.

The obscure reference to the motto of the Clackmannanshire County (viz "Look aboot ye") is mere affectation. The new (2007 on) motto "More than you can imagine", is itself seen as an indication that the rot is not confined to the defacing of the photographic form, but has spread to county slogans and other heretofore sacrosanct areas of expression. So ...

Pictorialism Wars - The Instagram strikes back!

I am still trying to determine what:
genetic modifications
and or brain surgery
and/or mental or optical filtering and distorters
and or apps / modes / plugins / ...
I need to buy / acquire / fit / install / upload / download / patch / ...
to my wetware systems (or any other systems)

to allow me to see the world and instagram images as others evidently see them
so that I too can participate with abandon / joy / pleasure / satisfaction in what so far seems mainly a pointless distorted munged destruction of good old everyday optical brain feed.

Photoshop to the rescue - I'm still working on that ...

Ansell Adams: May have gone a bit far the other way. May have perhaps cheated a little by some measures on a bad day. Maybe not.


Now, in the digital age, with everyone a photographer and with technical skill leveled by superb auto modes, does the message of the pictoralist movement resonate again?

Mannifestly, yes. Look aboot ye.
But, not, I think, due to the reasons that you list. Or, not as the predominant factor.

I suspect it's more a Gen X Y Z T post-modern, post-post-modern, where-have-we-got-to-gen-whatever-post-whatever tendency to post-instant-gratification, post-live-for-the-day, post [Warning: supply of "-"s has run out] if it geels food do it, post young generation what has the world come to, in my day uphill to school both ways bottom of a lake cardboard box no shoes, mumble grumble .... , matter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like maybe I haven't smoked enough of the right thing to understand this answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Apr 6, 2013 at 2:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm - did you watch the video (via link supplied). That explains everything. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2013 at 10:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey, now that I watched the video, I get what you mean. And I also realise why old-skool folks here can't accept loosening the definition of DSLR to include EVF, lol. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2013 at 11:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @EsaPaulasto - My first SLR was a Minolta SRT303B. That should date me. I have owned 6 DSLRs so far and my latest DSLR is a Sony A77. I also own a Nikon D700 BUT as an "integrated photo making system" I consider the Pellicle mirror and EVF combination without peer, so far. Does that break your old-skool-folk model ? :-). In 2003 I bought a Minolta 7Hi fixed lens bridge camera with EVF. It showed me what can be done with such things and I've been waiting for the industry to catch up ever since. "Live View" per se does not exist on the Sony SLT cameras - it's all just "view". Superb. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2013 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Doesn't break it, you are enlightened! And sorry I can't date you with the Minolta, I was so young back then, having no idea what models were available when I started with an SLR camera 33 years ago. But I knew your using a Sony SLT and was sure I would not be offending you with my comment ;) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2013 at 13:02

At the end of the day, successful art is anything that a reasonable number of people find to be enjoyable, moving, intriguing - insert your positive adjective here. All successful art creates an emotion or a feeling in a person and makes them want to look at or experience the art.

By this metric, digital images (that have crossed the line from being photographs due to excessive manipulation) have every right and possibility to be art. They need only be successful.

Personally, such work needs to be amazing before it particularly resonates with me. My favourite art is reality-based. A beautiful Tom Thomson landscape has always spoken to me more loudly than anything abstract. That's not to say abstract art isn't art - it absolutely can be - but it doesn't particularly resonate with me.

For this reason, photographically I have always been in the pictorialist camp. It happens that Ansel Adams is one of the photographers I respect the most. It happens that even today, in the digital age, I shoot a large proportion of my work on film, not because film is necessarily superior (it is at a few things, and it isn't at a few others) but because film expresses my photographic vision well. I shoot digital the same way - I aim to show and interpret reality. I may use colour filtration on black and white film, and I may use super-wide-angle lenses on my digital work, but the scenes I record remain realistic. You would recognize them as being real - but you might get a new perspective on their reality, if I have succeeded in attaining my vision. If I have failed, it is because I have manipulated my images to the point of distraction. Whatever work I have done to attain my art should never distract from or interfere with your enjoyment of it.

Am I constraining myself? I don't think so. I choose to ignore hundreds of potential hobbies and diversions because I concentrate on what I like and enjoy. And besides, reality is plenty interesting.

I've been reading my back issues of a British black and white photography magazine the last few weeks. The most moving photos I have seen in them so far were a set of photos of a forest. I've seen a lot of trees - but these photos were beautiful. They were also realistic. The photographer absolutely nailed his vision, to my eye.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is nice as a personal story, but I'd be interested in how this might relate to the larger, historical picture. Can you elaborate on that? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Apr 7, 2013 at 15:43

I was tired of the usual visual accuracy - and gave in to the idea that being in focus is as much an illusion as my lens corrected eyes. Now, at least half of my life is spent looking at the world astigmatically - because the soft images make me both uncomfortable and peaceful at the same time. I just can't feel that way about an image collected from accurate detail. It leaves less to my imagination and gives me less "feeling". Of course, this is my own experience and others have their own methods - but pictorialism, impressionism - what a great way to ask the question "How does this make me feel" without all of the other... context.


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